Dear Esther: Landmark Edition (Xbox One) Review

By Gabriel Jones 20.09.2016

Review for Dear Esther: Landmark Edition on Xbox One

When it comes to video games, there are certain expectations. The player has to accomplish a task, and numerous obstacles are in their way. How they go about overcoming these obstacles is what dictates the genre of the game. Dear Esther is a game without obstacles. There aren't any bad guys to punch, puzzles to solve, or spike pits to jump over. All the player does is walk until they reach their destination. Through the narrator's voice and the on-screen imagery, a story is told. What makes this game work is how the player interprets everything that they see and hear.

Since the entirety of Dear Esther is spent walking and looking, it's natural to expect great visuals. After all, there aren't any elements to catch the eye, such as enemies, objects to collect, or even a user interface. The graphics are astounding. Everything from the lighting to the composition is extremely well done. Each chapter has a consistent look, and some locations are positively striking. Curve Digital did a remarkable job with the console port. The frame rate is a constant 60 fps, the image quality is great, and there aren't any glitches in the scenery.

The award-winning sound design is also worthy of mention. Jessica Curry's music perfectly suits every moment, even when spending an inordinate amount of time in a single location. During the times when there isn't any music, the sounds of running water, as well as the howling of the wind, capture the dour atmosphere. There are other, more unsettling, noises that can also be heard. These are subtle, as in not enough to overtake everything else that is happening, but they'll get the player's attention.

As for the game itself, or rather, the gameplay, there is very little to be said. All too often, reviewers use statements such as, "It's not for everyone," and "It's what you make of it." Unfortunately, there really isn't a better description. No two people are going to look at Dear Esther the same way. One person will believe that it's an emotionally powerful and a significant achievement, whilst another person will be bored to tears. These diametrically opposed viewpoints are both right, and that's the wonder of opinions. If the player doesn't open their mind, then the audio-visual imagery is lost on them. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the player is wrong. It might be because there isn't enough of an impact to draw them in.

Screenshot for Dear Esther: Landmark Edition on Xbox One

When somebody approaches a video game, they do so with all of their current thoughts and emotions, which can affect the experience. Since games usually require a lot of interactivity - such as the aforementioned punching, jumping, and puzzle-solving - the player is distracted. However, there really isn't much to do while walking through an island in the Hebrides. The constant theme of Dear Esther is solitude, so anything that someone is thinking or feeling is brought to the forefront.

To its credit, this game doesn't try to be anything more than it is. Completing the story shouldn't take more than two hours. There isn't any meaningless padding, nor does the narrator exposit to the point where all of the mystery is revealed. This is a game that was explicitly designed for players to be lost, sometimes even after reaching the end. Attempting to fill in the blanks is what gives it its lasting value.

New to the console release is commentary by Robert Briscoe (artist), Dan Pinchbeck (writer) and Jessica Curry (composer). They offer a lot of insight into how Dear Esther was designed, as well as the thought process that went into creating its most interesting elements. For fans, finding every piece of discussion is a worthwhile venture. However, like any other audio commentary, it's best to play through the game at least once or twice before listening. The commentary spoils a few particularly great moments.

Screenshot for Dear Esther: Landmark Edition on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Dear Esther's appeal is directly tied to the player experiencing it. While it is a masterclass in graphics and sound, the game itself is practically a blank slate. It's like a puzzle with only a handful of pieces. The player isn't obligated to put it together, and they're not in the wrong if they choose to ignore it entirely. Still, this is a uniquely bold experience that pushes the medium in new directions. There are people out there thinking about it, asking questions, and really exploring what they just experienced. That is what's most important.

Developer

The Chinese Room

Publisher

Curve Digital

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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